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SARAJEVO (Reuters) - A World Heritage listing for 70,000 medieval tombstones spread across four countries that emerged from Yugoslavia's bloody break up in the 1990s was praised on Monday as a rare example of successful cooperation between the former foes.
Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia, whose neighborly relations often suffer over disputes dating back to the war, spent six years persuading the United Nations to protect the graveyards as part of their shared heritage.
Bosnia's Civil Affairs Minister Adil Osmanovic announced on Monday that a committee of the U.N. Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had recognized the unique and universal cultural value of the tombstones, known as stecci.
"They also acknowledged and welcome an unprecedented cooperation between our four countries on this project," Osmanovic told a news conference together with ambassadors of the other three countries and a UNESCO representative.
"Bearing in mind what our countries have been through in the near past, this project has really proved the importance of the graveyards and stecci for the regional relations," he added. "It is our joint success."
Bosnia co-ordinated the campaign to have the stecci listed.
The tombstones date to the 12th century and are treasured in the Balkans for their unique decorative symbols and carvings, often linked to the medieval Kingdom of Bosnia. Around 60,000 have been found in Bosnia, with nearly 10,000 more scattered across Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia.
Each of the countries has its own cultural and historic monuments on the U.N.'s protected heritage list, and each has nominated more, but the stecci campaign was the first joint bid since the former Yugoslav states went their separate ways.
The UNESCO committee listed 21 new World Heritage sites at a meeting last week in Istanbul that was overshadowed by the failed coup attempt in Turkey on Friday.
Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Catherine Evans